First Pitch: Day Thirty Eight – Little Oblivions

I don’t believe in the concept of addictions.

I don’t think any substance itself is addictive.

Life is complex. Life is difficult. There is no guide for life, and as a result, it’s easy to find yourself alone sometimes, feeling lost, and feeling like there’s no path to be found.

We all seek comfort in this uncertain life. We seek the comfort of certainty, but most importantly, we seek the comfort of validation.

If there’s anything we’re all addicted to, it’s comfort. And comfort can be achieved through many methods. The quickest shortcut is through a substance. I’ve seen people close to me who have been addicted to shopping, sugar, and caffeine. We wouldn’t call any of those things addictive, but there are such things as hoarders, diabetics, and rage-induced monsters who haven’t had their daily coffee by 10 AM.

In my life search for comfort, I’ve been “addicted” to many things. I’ve bought items I don’t need, trying to make my life complete. I’ve eaten so much sugar that I’ve sworn I’d lose a foot. I’ve gotten so hooked at times on caffeine filled soda that I become that rage-monster trying to keep every plate spinning in my life.

My favorite escape is marijuana. It eases my pain from headaches. It eliminates my social anxiety, to the point where I feel comfortable talking to others. It makes me feel like myself, and it’s rare in my life that I feel like myself, or feel comfortable with myself.

But marijuana, like any substance that brings you comfort, can be abused in search of that comfort.

I started smoking weed in 2018 to help find a cure for my constant migraines. It worked so well that I was able to stop taking the constant pain killers that were starting to impact my liver. It also worked so well to relax me that I all but gave up drinking alcohol, finding that weed provided a better feeling of comfort, without the many negatives alcohol has on your body.

When the pandemic rolled around in 2020, my weed usage increased, and kept increasing. By the start of 2021, I was smoking a Snoop Dogg level of an ounce a week. The increase was due to the need for more comfort as I was getting toward the end of a very abusive relationship, where I was constantly gaslit that every issue was my fault, and where every “issue” boiled down to my ex-wife’s outward appearance to her friends and family.

I’ve never been one for outward appearances. I’m me. Honest to an uncomfortable fault, and unashamed whenever I find myself wandering alone in the forest of life. That mentality led me to where I am now, with the sites and career I have today. The longer my marriage went on, the less I was myself, and the more I took on my wife’s need for her own comfort. The more I did that, the more I smoked, trying to rediscover my own comfort. The more weed helped me stand up for myself, the more my wife hated my weed usage.

Aside from weed, my biggest “addiction” is music. That’s the thing that brings me the most comfort.

It’s not a surprise that one of my two favorite albums in 2021 was “Little Oblivions” by Julien Baker. The album title is perfectly summarized by Baker in an interview with KEXP, which is shared below.

“The substances we use, the escapist mentalities we have, the negative coping mechanisms – these are all ways we create little, tiny oblivions in our head because reality is difficult and painful”

Baker’s album starts on perhaps its strongest note with the song “Hardline”, which opens with the line “Blacked out on a weekday, is there something that I’m trying to avoid?” Baker’s lyrics are vivid and draw a dark picture of the deep depths of substance abuse, unhealthy relationships, and the feeling of helplessness that we all can feel. By the end of “Hardline”, her incredible voice echoes out an almost rhetorical sounding question about her outlook on life: “What if it’s all black, baby, all the time?”

The album gets darker from the opening track, while hiding the darkness with an impressive ensemble of music, which is more full and heavier on drums than Baker’s previous two albums. The harder sound takes a break during key moments, like when Baker whispers “I’ll wrap Orion’s belt around my neck and kick the chair out” in the song “Heatwave.”

By the third track, Baker is bargaining to a “Faith Healer” to ease her pain as she takes a break from the substance and starts seeing everything in “startling intensity.” Perhaps not coincidentally, the next track, “Relative Fiction” has her looking at the relationship, admitting that there’s nothing she can do to not hurt the other person. By the end of the song, Baker declares “I’m finished being good, now I can finally be okay and not the way I thought I should.”

My favorite song on the album is “Crying Wolf”, which is the best display of Baker’s vocals leading the way, and her unwinding story telling keeping you following along with every captivating word. This song was the first song that really drew me to this album from Baker. Sitting outside at 2 AM last summer, newly separated from my wife, and missing the good of the relationship while forgetting the bad, Baker’s declaration of “I swear off all the things I thought that got me here, In the evening, I’ll come back again” really connected with me.

That’s one of the difficult things about life. When you stop to view things objectively, you can see multiple sides of an issue. You remember the good and the bad, and wonder why one had to win out over the other.

Of course, there’s no winning in love. Or, as Baker puts it in the song “Bloodshot”, “There’s no glory in love, only the gore of our hearts.” The idea of love being a contest, which is a characteristic of a toxic relationship, is something that reappears throughout the album, including in one of my favorite songs, “Ringside” where Baker finishes:

Like a scratch-off ticket
How you dig your nails into my skin
Honey, I’m not stupid
I know no one wins this kind of thing
It’s just another way to kill an hour
Wishing I were different
Nobody deserves a second chance
But I keep giving them

The song “Favor” was the first I heard off the album, and one of my most played of 2021. Baker unwinds a slow piano melody with her crying vocals in “Song in E”, begging for her former partner to return only to leave her crying face-down in the carpet after proclaiming Baker the partner’s biggest mistake. In the end, Baker isn’t affected by the words or the pain. It’s the mercy she can’t take.

In the song “Repeat”, Baker wonders if the love will kick in when the ocean of drugs wear off, but ultimately ends up in a nightmare that keeps repeating.

Toward the end of the album, Baker starts getting some of her own voice back, and some strength, belting out at the end of “Highlight Reel” that it will be up to her to decide how much of the relationship was a lie. In the final track of the album, “Ziptie”, Baker comes to the realization that the things she has felt were wrong in her life were the same things that everyone else was doing. Disappointed to find that everyone looks like her, Baker sings about someone having her head in a ziptie, while begging God to call of a system that has people treating each other so poorly.

For all of the darkness and hopelessness expressed in the album, Baker’s strength is her ability to flawlessly convey it all in an album that doesn’t have a single bad track. By doing so, she offers up her experience to others, who may find the words familiar, even if they weren’t able to express it themselves.

We all seek comfort in our darkest times, whether that’s finding a substance that can take us away from the pain, or just finding a familiar story to tell us that other people have made it through feelings very similar. Sometimes the most comforting thing is finding company in your darkest depths. In 2021, in my darkest depths, I found comfort in the company of Julien Baker’s “Little Oblivions.”

In the four months after my wife left, I looked back and noticed that my weed usage went to 25% of the levels it was at during the darkest days in the end. By August, I decided to take a break for a few months, confirming that I didn’t need it, but also giving a chance to heal without the assistance of a substance. This also meant removing my effective treatment of migraines, which was perhaps more painful.

By the end of 2021, with some boost from about a thousand listens to Baker’s album, I was able to return to a healthy form of using weed to escape. This time, I was escaping the feeling of exhaustion after a hard day of work, with my life suddenly trending in a more positive direction on my own. It was that first time smoking that I came to a revelation of my own:

The worst thing weed ever did
Is give me the strength to say
You can’t treat me this way
That’s the last thing we ever did

Sometimes, comfort can be achieved simply by accepting yourself, and accepting that you’re not wrong, even if you find yourself alone in the forest.

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